(Looking Back and Looking Forward takes a look at the articles and posts I found interesting from the previous week, along with reflections about how the trends they point to might shape my thinking about education, technology, and culture.)

Who could have seen this coming?

An industry boom creates an optimistically unrealistic vision of perpetual growth, spurring heavy spending and expansion, only to transform into an attitude of austere pragmatism that leads to large-scale organization adjustments (aka massive layoffs).

Boom to bust to boom to bust etc.

Well, you live long enough, or you grow up in an oil-rich state, and you have a chance to see it over and over again. Of course, if you’ve been paying attention to such patterns, you’ve also seen similar, recurring patterns in real estate, 

You live long enough and you’ve seen plenty of repeatable patterns in your life, in real estate, family dynamics, the weather, well… you get it. You learn to see and understand what’s happening along with an understanding of what is likely to happen next. The only question is when will the next cycle begin.

And so we have Big Tech companies, all of whom expanded aggressively in the pandemic as people turned to different technologies to keep them connected, that are now discovering austerity. You say this is a “year of efficiency,” I say it’s a return to reality. Along those lines, it’s not surprising to see Google playing “fast follower” and rushing to release new AI features into its search engine “very soon.”

Meanwhile, in China, Baidu has announced its own plans to release its own version of a CHatGPT service. This reminds me of a major point made by Kai-Fu Lee in his book AI Superpowers — China’s potential advantage in developing AI solutions comes from the massive amounts of centralized data collected through super apps.

Oh, and in case some of you are still wondering how we got here with generative AI, you might want to check out this brief history/primer.

Moving on to higher education, the good news is that fall enrollments in the U.S. this academic year showed, while down slightly, showed evidence of stabilizing. Freshman enrollments we actually up. Ever lurking in the background, however, are the two shadows: (1) a shrinking pool of high school graduates due, in part to declining birth rates, and; (2) a growing number of alternatives to the traditional four-year degree, which is becoming too expensive for many.

While this leads many to question how colleges and universities can compete in this “new world,” others are asking a more fundamental question: What are universities for? Is their purpose to provide pathways for gainful employment and professional success or to promote “flourishing” and contribute to a more enlightened and reflective society?

The answer to that question is ever-evolving but it is worth noting that employers may be reversing a trend that began more than fifty years ago by hiring more people without a college degree. That is good news overall, I think, but there are challenges inherent in moving away from the blanket workforce entry visas provided by college degrees, This means that employers must become more granular in their definition of job roles and be able to align job requirements (and certifications) accurately to those roles.

There were plenty of posts in education circles week about generative AI, ChatGPT, and AI’s likely impact on education. The discussions ranged from unflipping the classroom and new ways to create learning assignments to education and subject-specific implementations of generative AI and the need to overcome our AI fears (also see Michale Feldstein’s related post). I really liked Adam Croom’s thoughtful post about how he introduced ChatGPT in his Contemporary Problems in Advertising class. And Donald Clark does a good job of focusing/refocusing the AI in learning discussion by looking at innovations in semantic search and other ways that AI is changing how we learn and teach.

Finally, on the related topic of science and culture, I recommend a quick read of this article on James Joyce’s references to physics in Ulysses

The fact that Ulysses contains so much classical physics should not be surprising,” Manos wrote. “Joyce’s friend Eugene Jolas observed: ‘the range of subjects he [Joyce] enjoyed discussing was a wide one … [including] certain sciences, particularly physics, geometry, and mathematics.’ Knowing physics can enhance everyone’s understanding of this novel and enrich its entertainment value. Ulysses exemplifies what physics students (science and non-science majors) and physics teachers should realize, namely, physics and literature are not mutually exclusive.

If Joyce could see that physics and literature are not mutually exclusive, perhaps we can make some room for AI and education.

Further Reading

Higher Education

Undergraduate enrollment slips only 0.6%, showing signs of stabilizing 

Freshman enrollment is up for the first time since 2019

Competing in the New Era of Higher Education

What are universities for? Canadian higher education is at a critical crossroads

Stephen’s Web ~ What are universities for? Canadian higher education is at a critical crossroads 

Community colleges’ positive, pervasive digital leap


63% of educators consider leaving the profession

The New Face of Homeschooling: Less Religious and Conservative, More Focused on Quality

Sal Khan’s New Online School Wants to Make ‘Mastery Learning’ Global

Workforce and Employment

Employers, hire more people without college degrees, says the New York Times

Stephen’s Web ~ Employers, hire more people without college degrees, says the New York Times

Scripting News: I’m not a “coder”

Online Learning, Learning Design, and Education Technology

Will ChatGPT Unflip the Classroom?

ChatGPT sparks debate on how to design student assignments now

Introducing: ChatGPT Edu-Mega-Prompts

Meet MathGPT: a Chatbot Tutor Built Specific to a Math Textbook

Why We’re Not “Screwed” By AI

Stephen’s Web ~ Why We’re Not ‘Screwed’ By AI 

ChatGPT Wrote This Article and then Totally Stole My Job!

Introducing GPT To My Class

Donald Clark Plan B: AI and learning is about to get a massive boost

2U says reorienting around edX is putting it on a path to profitability

35 edtech innovations we saw at FETC 2023

Improvisation Blog: AI, Technical Architecture and the Future of Education

Learning analytics as data ecology: a tentative proposal

State of Higher Ed LMS Market for US and Canada: Year-End 2022 Edition

Technology and Culture

Tech’s Biggest Companies Discover Austerity, to the Relief of Investors

Google tries to reassure investors on AI progress as ChatGPT breathes down its neck

Google Says AI Features in Search Engine Will Be Available ‘Very Soon’

Baidu Stock Price Jumps on Plans to Launch Own Version of ChatGPT

Would Baidu’s answer to ChatGPT make a difference?

The physics of James Joyce’s Ulysses

China smartphone market slumps to 10-year low in 2022

The generative AI revolution has begun—how did we get here? 

How AI Will Transform Project Management

FLAME: A small language model for spreadsheet formulas